One of the reasons this first part of last year’s favorites list hasn’t been posted yet — writing this introduction. Trying to find a narrative among your musical choices is sort of what you have to do if you’re going to write these up, but this is music we’re talking about here. In broad terms, the medium’s expanding so fast in all directions these days we may eventually see the entire market Big Rip itself to heat death. What narrative?
My best-fit alternative: heavy metal, my fallback musical fix of choice, has so many albums being released across so many styles that there’s no feasible way to gatekeep. Complain about Deafheaven as the death of metal if you must, but there are so many other things to listen to that if you can’t find enough to enjoy, it’s probably more to do with you than with “the scene” being dead.
And as far as obligations to be “objective”, well, hell with that. In 1987, there were about 150 metal LPs released. You could have had an objective education in everything released by the end of the year, at least enough to render a subjective opinion about what’s good and what’s not good. Three to four times that many metal albums came out last month alone. It would take more than eight albums a day, every day, all year — no second spins, no exceptions — to hear even half of what was released in 2016. To be a truly well-schooled authority nowadays is a physiological impossibility.
So, the prescription: don’t worry so much about all the different metal critics and writers having different discussions about different bands entirely. Don’t worry about people declaring a scene this exhaustively alive to be dead. Don’t even worry about your list coming out on time. Just… like what you like. Hold fast to what you love. Don’t be afraid just to treat your list as a necessarily limited record of “stuff what I liked in the preceding year”.
At this point, that’s pretty much all it’s going to be good for, anyway.
THE “SHOULD HAVE LISTENED MORE, BUT REALITY INTRUDED” ALBUMS
Graham Bonnet Band, The Book: Bonnet returns with a surprisingly muscular collection of hard rock for a guy just this side of 70, especially given his hit-or-miss ratio down the many decades of his career.
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker: It’s pretty typical to say any icon’s last album finds them grappling with their own impending mortality; with Cohen, that’s less critical wank and more the direction of his own marketing efforts.
40 Watt Sun, Wider Than the Sky: 40 Watt Sun’s second album transitions out of doom metal altogether, adopting a wider, cleaner style which spreads out over the listener like cloud cover above a breezy field.
Glenn Hughes, Resonate: Most of the vocalists in Glenn Hughes’s age bracket either sound half-blown out or completely blown out. Hughes is a freak of acoustic nature whose voice hasn’t lost a damn step in forty years.
Iron Savior, Titancraft: I’m an easy mark for Piet Sielck’s chest-beating, Queen-meets-Judas Priest approach to power metal… and Titancraft is a fine example thereof. It just never cleared a trail for itself into my listening patterns last year.
Khemmis, Hunted: The thing I liked least about Absolution was the way songs would suddenly trip into constipated sludge. Hunted doesn’t shed those influences, but it incorporates them more naturally into the band’s style and that’s the next best thing.
Metallica, Hardwired… to Self Destruct: “Spit out the Bone” is a better Mercyful Fate homage in parts than anything Denner and Shermann have released together in the last few years. That alone is cause for modest celebration.
Nine Inch Nails, Not the Actual Events: For months in a row there, Trent Reznor’s howl from the chorus of “Branches/Bones” was exactly what my inner voice sounded and felt like. The second EP in this series is out next Friday; stay tuned.
Richard Shindell, Careless: This is a Richard Shindell album. If you’re into his brand of warm-but-melancholy folk you’ll know what that means and savor a new release after many years without. If you’re not, nothing in this description will make sense to you.
Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion: Good, clean doom metal with bad mastering and a facility for deploying winding passages of harmonized guitars for maximum dramatic effect.
Testament, Brotherhood of the Snake: Most of Brotherhood of the Snake is strong, but my rapturous initial response faded when I realized just how many of the songs were made from inanities about gambling, weed, or secret evil conspiracies.
Vektor, Terminal Redux: At no point in 2016 did I sit down and put enough time into untying Vektor’s gnarly, tangled knot of elaborate sci-fi thrash to form an actual opinion. By the midpoint of 2017, I still haven’t done that.
Year of the Cobra, … in the Shadows Below: Year of the Cobra plows a groove through your head like a tank plowing through a sand dune, and they’re nearly as smoky as the air behind this metaphorical hunk of military equipment, to boot.
Zeal & Ardor, Devil Is Fine: By turns, Devil Is Fine contains a fascinating hybrid of black metal and spirituals, trappist grooves, and unsettling vocal sketches which feel pulled from one of Tom Waits’ more rainsoaked musical alleyways.
Join me again in a few days — that’s a totally scientific measurement and not blind fumbling in the dark, I swear — for part two, when I dig a bit deeper into the actual runners-up that anybody who knows me on Facebook already saw back in February.